Iran/Hezbollah:

• I add a significant amount of information on the Iranian military and doctrine in this section. I feel like many people think Iran is an underdog because of the Syrian conflict but it has locked down its own backyard quite impressively.

• Iranian losses have been nearly 100 IRGC fighters (maybe more now) and at least 4 senior commanders [Source]

• Hezbollah protects Christian communities inside Syria during Christmas against looming threat of an ISIL attack. [Source]

• Soleimani is well-liked, a video of him last month shows him unable to control the crowd as they praise him. [Source]

• Soleimani still lives, albeit looking sick and weakened [Source]

• Iran unveils an underground-launched ballistic rocket, revealing its capabilities in withstanding and counterattacking any foreign aggression. [Source] [Source]

• Colonel Mohamed Zahra Wenad was killed by Syrian rebels in Syria, another senior Iranian commander falls [Source]

• The Shia militias inside Iraq and Syria are supported by lots of Iranian weapons and training. Fighters are seen using weapons proficiently, including hand-held mortars and sniper rifles. Lots of heavy weapons are mounted onto civilian vehicles and pickup trucks. Ample usage of towed artillery and a professional level of organizing outposts and firebases. Night vision gear is also used to conduct night operations (which requires a tremendously higher level of discipline from soldiers and a much greater degree of competence from officers). [Source] [source]

• A Shia cleric was executed in Saudi Arabia which instigated Shia communities throughout the Muslim world. [Source]

• In Iran the Saudi Arabian embassy was overrun by protestors in Tehran. [Source]

• Even Ayatollah Khamenei was impacted as his official website put a picture up comparing the Islamic State to the Saudi Arabian executioners [Source]

• Iran has tried to dispel the diplomatic row by sacking the senior security official in charge of the Saudi embassy [Source]

• Iran understands that the US wants to downgrade the conflict from a US-Iran issue to a Saudi Arabia-Iran issue (in which the US again has to intervene on behalf of its ally) [Source]

• Iran captures and releases US soldiers caught off of Farsi Island with engine troubles. The sailors are videoed apologizing for their mistake in drifting in Iranian waters (due to mechanical issues). The US prisoners were treated extraordinarily well and let go promptly (the following morning) [Source]  [Source]

• If Iran was playing by Turkish rules it would have blasted both ships out of the water and mimicked the exact things Turkey said “right to defend sovereign borders”.

• The story of a drifting ship (because anchors are apparently hard to find on a seaborne vessel) or the fact they didn’t radio in for help (because that would give away their position) probably indicated some other clandestine mission involved.

• The two crafts were Swedish-manufactured CB-90 fast assault crafts. These have been heavily modified with an array of weaponry including heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, and sea mines. The Americans call them “Riverine Command Boat.” Some other nations have modified them to incorporate even heavier weapons such as Hellfire missiles and Gatling guns. There are only 6 in the US Navy Arsenal and generally they are used for special operations and missions. [Source] [Source]

• Other variations (mostly by Scandinavian countries) include a command and control version with communications equipment and auxiliary generator, a police edition with bunks and a pantry, a SAR vessel, a floating ambulance, and a troop transport edition.

• The US navy in the area attempted to muscle and intimidate Iran by initiating inappropriate and ‘unprofessional’ behavior with aerial and seaborne provocations. [Source]

• The West saw it in its usual arrogant “how dare they stop us from entering their sovereign waters” stance [Source]

• The Iranian Navy has gone under some extensive reorganization and is probably the most practical naval force on the planet. It’s foundations were in the Iran-Iraq war under extreme embargoes forbidding Iran from purchasing anything abroad but simple boats [Source]

• The Iranian navy mostly comprises of light boats, corvettes, midget submarines, submarine-boat hybrids and frogmen (sea commandos). Sources are pictures that will highlight the type of crafts Iran is focused on building. [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source]

• These smaller vessels are much harder to detect electronically due to their smaller cross-sections as well as the smaller engines/motors which produce less noise for sonar to pick up.

• Of course Iran also fields conventional frigates and submarines but in the Iranian naval doctrine they play more of a command or support role to the swarm of smaller vessels within its armada [Source] [Source]

• Iranian naval doctrine revolves around swarming in which forces will attack in multiple waves from multiple directions at once. This attack involves more than just unleashing thermobaric torpedoes but also firing surface-to-surface rockets, anti-ship missiles, and even attempting to board and capture vessels.

• Today modern anti-tank rockets (such as the TOW missiles) can penetrate meters of steel armor (modern tank armor is a composite of materials such as depleted uranium, ceramic, etc. to create armor that is lighter than steel but more durable). So modern anti-ship weaponry, such as the Russian VA-111, are considerably more devastating being larger and faster (making it harder to countermeasure). In short a single torpedo or cruise missile today can knock out any normal naval vessel. It is unclear what similar munitions will do to a Super Carrier such as those the United States deploys.

• Iran has even demonstrated the effectiveness of these tactics on a mock-carrier built for this purpose [Source] [Source]

• In the past the US conducted a war games operation against an enemy which had similar parameters to Iran and had reached devastating results in how easily suicide boats and swarm attacks were against a modern carrier battle group. The use of low-tech communications (such as flags, smoke, lights, flares, messengers, and even pigeons) completely threw off the US Navy. The tactical use of radars being engaged at the last minute to acquire targets also made the US Naval Aviation anti-radiation missiles useless. Retired Major General Van Riper was the commander of OpFor during this exercise. [Source]

• The US navy excused it by saying the entire exercise was to test command and communication protocols and not to battle test weapon systems and war tactics.

• Time and time again Iran has shown its technological capabilities, stalking a US carrier (and even test firing missiles next to it). Jamming, capturing, and reverse engineering US drones. Touting an industrial-military complex which has created their own phased-array radars, organic helicopters and jet engines, ballistic and anti-air missiles, sensor packages and even space technology. [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source]

• Iran was however denied its right to nuclear weapons, giving Israel a significant hegemony over Iran.

• The Ayatollah has however decreed that weapons of mass destruction are haram (forbidden) and thus Iran to this day does not any WMDs, not even stocks of chemical or biological weapons (like how Syria once had chemical weapons). Iranians understand their horror all too well thanks to Saddam and the US corporations that provided him the chemicals for his chemical warfare program.

• Iran still has problems with supplies of specialty parts as much of their old US-manufactured arsenal from the Shah days is beginning to break down more and more often [Source]

• In the Persian Gulf Iran has a substantial military edge which has put the US navy in the region on notice as well as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar by displaying how easily their ballistic missiles can reach their oil refineries and natural gas depots.

• EU and US sanctions have been lifted off Iran as UN watchdogs confirm Iran is keeping is nuclear promise. Why a country has to give up the right to enrich nuclear material to be allowed to trade internationally when countries like Israel get tax-breaks from most of the EU and the US and have an undeclared nuclear program is beyond me. Just shows how one-sided and Western-oriented international organizations (including the UN) can be. [Source]

• It’s most probably because the economy is taking a really big hit as of late that Iran has been de-sanctioned (because the West loves money more than it loves law). Now Iran can purchase 114 civil aircraft from European manufacturer Airbus and spend its frozen US dollars importing foreign goods, a much needed welcome to the ailing Western economies. Sanctions only hurt Western economies as many corporations depend on these nations for revenue. [Source] [Source]

Saudi Arabia, GCC and Arab Coalition partners, Hadi government forces:

• Saudi Arabia intercepts more SCUDs fired at its territory from Yemen [Source]

• The Australian who was killed last month in Yemen has been listed as the Commander of the UAE President Guard, highlighting the different security UAE leadership has with foreign mercenary groups which are outside the control of the national military. [Source]

• Kuwait is now sending ground forces to Yemen. More meat for the grinder. [Source]

• A Bahraini F-16 seems to have been shot down by Yemeni forces, probably Yemeni Republic Guards operating the few anti-air missile batteries in the country. Some have claimed it may have been engine troubles but others noted its fall trajectory seems like it was shot down. [Source]

• As a reprisal to the Saudi Arabian embassy being stormed by rioters in Tehran, the KSA launched an airstrike on the Iranian embassy in Yemen. [Source]

• Saudi Arabia continues to refuse to bomb ISIL targets inside Yemen [Source]

• Egyptian troops have arrived in Yemen at Aden to help the Hadi government. Unit composition is yet unclear, either an expeditionary battalion of armor and advanced infantry; perhaps a mechanized infantry battalion with an engineering detachment and service crews. [Source] [Source]

• Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, have been one of the primary sources of instability in the entire Middle East. The KSA and its financing and support of jihadists, salafists and wahhabists has literally devolved large portions of the Middle Eastern population. [Source]

• Saudi Arabia will apparently let Israel use its airspace to strike Iran. Rumors of this have been afloat since 2009 and chances are Israel and the KSA have already had an agreement to allow the IAF to strike Iran from Saudi Arabia for a long time. [Source]

• The United States, Saudi Arabia’s greatest ally, is providing the Saudi Arabian Air Force intelligence and the US Air Force is refueling their jet fights in the air. [Source]

• This is done to allow the Saudi Arabian Air Force F-15S to carry maximum payload which increases fuel consumption during take-off. So for the fighters to make it to their destination (as they have to fly from bases that are safe from SCUD missiles) they need to be refueled during their mission. Cluster munitions are the standard rounds used by the KSA. [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source]

• The UK is the second biggest trading partner for the Saudi Arabian military (after the United States) [Source]

• Columbia is upset that its best soldiers have been lured away by lucrative pay from GCC nations to fight in Yemen when they are much needed to fight drug traffickers and narcos in their home country (it’s funny they picked Columbia, I can just picture a Saudi prince who enjoys the nose candy too much suggesting this one to the deputy crown prince) [Source]

• Saudi Arabia has made deep cuts into its budget to offset its deficits. The wars they are supporting (and that includes more than just Yemen) are costing too much. Gas prices have gone up 67%. Electricity and water bills have gone up as well. Funding programs and reliance on foreign workers are beginning to be winded down to encourage companies to employ local Saudis instead (this is more true in terms of engineering, medicine, etc. in which many foreigners enjoy handsome salaries throughout Saudi Arabia with their foreign expertise). [Source]

• The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the third most expensive military on the planet followed behind US and China. Inside the Kingdom the daily citizen is more out of touch with reality than your average North Korean. [Source]

Yemeni Houthis and allied forces:

• The Houthis capture more and more high-quality European-made small arms such as Austrian Steyr AUG assault rifles and Instalaza C90 disposable RPGs. Seems the EU is also enjoying the splendor of supplying foreign wars. [Source]

• The source provided here is a repository, with pictures, of all destroyed military vehicles in the Yemen war showing the immense damage the Houthis and Yemeni Republican Guard are putting on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its Arab Coalition members. The website is like viewing a used-car search engine. [Source]

• The damage of wrought by cluster munitions. They are pretty indiscriminate but they do have great effect on dispersed soft targets. No Security Council nation wants to ban cluster munitions (or land mines). [Source] [Source] [Source] [Source]

• An oil pipeline has been destroyed close to Aden by unknown forces. Nobody has taken claim. Hadi-loyalists and Al-Qaeda have been fighting around Aden. [Source]

USA, EU, NATO, Israel:

• The US and other EU intelligence agencies have been secretly working with the Syrian government in identifying terrorist targets. [Source]

• The Pentagon is considering striking more targets even if it brings on civilian causalities as critics have noted how slow the campaign against the Islamic State has been. This message comes after the US-led coalition struck an ISIL cash storage in Mosul (with 2x 900lb bombs). [Source]

• The US has slightly shifted some of its plans in Syria, relying on deploying more special forces, including those of allied nations such as France and UK, on the ground. The US will also be more hands on in targeting, having US teams on the ground. The main idea is to put maximum stress on key points of the Islamic State, cutting off and isolating cities and towns from each other and finally trying to move a patchwork of factions (Kurdish militias, Iraqi army and other groups) to fight ISIL in Mosul and Raqqa. [Source]

• The strategy relies heavily on two things, for Turkey to close its border and for the Iraqi army to secure its own sovereign lines working up the Euphrates. In essence trying to funnel ISIL to Syria with a more hands on approach and once inside bottling up all borders around Syria.

• The UK has shown off its Brimstone missile, fired from Tornado jets. [Source]

• The UK has also committed airstrikes on an ISIL security base in Mosul [Source]

• Israel gets its 5th generation nuclear-submarine from Germany, expanding Israel’s first- and second-strike capabilities. [Source]

• Israel continues to instigate Palestinians and then arrest them. This source is a video showing undercover Israeli police throwing rocks with Palestinians only to pull out their pistols and arrest the Palestinians that were throwing stones alongside with them. [Source]

• Israel continues to reaffirm that it has stopped anti-air missile transfers to Hezbollah and will continue to do so, however at what level of success this is achieving is yet unknown as Hezbollah did surprise Israel with the stocks of rockets in the 2006 war (of which one struck an Israeli naval vessel). I only reiterate this because Israel for the past 40 years has consistently flown surveillance planes, balloons, and drones over Lebanon with impunity and still did not see the defensive works which Hezbollah sowed into Southern Lebanon. [Source]

• Of course this also means that Israel is continuing to strike Hezbollah targets in Syria whenever the opportunity is present (and when it’s safe). These strikes seem to be either glide bombs or cruise missiles fired from within Israeli territory to avoid being targeted by anti-air systems once crossing into Syria. [Source]

The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world